The rescue story of Baby Jessica captured the attention of the entire country
Jessica McClure Morales was born on March 26, 1986, in Midland, Texas. At the time, her parents were only teenagers who were struggling through the Texas oil bust of the mid-1980s. For the first 18 months of Jessica’s life, everything went smoothly.
That was until October 14, 1987, when Jessica suddenly became the most famous child in the world.
Jessica was out playing in her aunt Jamie’s backyard, where her mother Cissy was watching her and four other children. But when Cissy received a phone call, she went inside, leaving the children unattended. Only minutes later, the sound of screaming would bring Cissy running back outside. She would find her infant daughter missing, as Jessica had fallen down an eight-inch diameter well.
She was trapped deep down in its shaft.
The reason behind Jessica’s fall remains unknown, as the opening had previously been covered by a heavy rock to avoid incidents such as that. But Cissy sprung into action, running back inside to call the police. They would arrive on the scene in less than three minutes.
Rescue crews soon discovered that Jessica was 22 feet below ground, in a space that was only 8 inches wide, with one of her legs trapped above her head. That was where she would remain for the next 58 hours.
Because she had fallen so far down a tight space, the rescue mission was practically impossible. She was stuck beneath layers of hard rock, so using a large rate-hole rig, they began to drill a 30-inch wide, 29-foot deep hole parallel to the well. After that, they began to drill a tunnel between the two holes.
As this was happening, rescue workers pumped oxygen into the well and tried to keep communication between them and the baby. Jessica moaned and cried, and when she went silent, the workers would tell her to sing her favorite nursery rhymes.
The rescue story of Jessica stole the attention of everyone in America. From the beginning, the ordeal was covered by CNN, which at the time, was the country’s first and only 24-hour news network. Jessica won over millions of viewers, receiving the pet name of ‘Baby Jessica.’ In the eyes of the nation, she was ‘everybody’s baby.’ CNN’s constant coverage of the case is said to be a turning point in the history of news, starting what we know today as the 24-hour news cycle.
As the crowd at the scene and the television audience grew, donations started to pour in by the hundreds. News stations would receive calls from absolute strangers who would ask for updates about Baby Jessica and the rescue efforts. She had captured the hearts of everyone.
And after a long 58 hours, Baby Jessica was finally free.
A paramedic named Robert O’Donnell went down the shaft, inching his way through rocks and mud to get to Jessica. He moved headfirst and on his back before finally getting to the small child. Using the rubber-tipped leg of a photographer’s tripod, O’Donnell pulled Jessica by her pants until she was in his arms.
When they made it out of the well, he held her up for the world to see. She was covered in gauze and dirt, but she was alive. An infamous picture of Baby Jessica and her rescuers was taken by Scott Shaw, and it would soon become a winner of the Pultizer Prize.
Despite being trapped for days without food or water, Jessica would fully recover. She went through 15 surgeries to treat all her injuries, all of which were paid for by donations. In the end, she would lose a small toe, have a large scar across her forehead, and suffer from controllable rheumatoid arthritis.
Following Baby Jessica’s rescue, the McClure family was shoved into the spotlight. They were featured on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee and a movie was made off of their experience, along with meeting President George H.W. Bush. Over $1 million in public donations were sent to Jessica, all of which went into a trust fund for later use.
Despite the horrible experience, Jessica was too young to remember anything about the fall and rescue. It wasn’t until years later the Jessica was even told the story, after watching an episode of Rescue 9–1–1 and seeing herself on the screen.
In the years since Baby Jessica took over the news, Jessica has gone on to live a normal life. She got married and had two kids. With the money left over from her trust fund, the small family bought a house just 2 miles away from the well that almost took Jessica’s life.
But life was far from perfect.
After the rescue, Jessica’s parents went through a messy and extremely public divorce. Worst of all, the paramedic that rescued Jessica, Robert O’Donnell struggled with PTSD from the accident. In 1995, he took his own life.
Every few years, Jessica will go and visit the well that changed both her life and how we consume news. In an interview, a now middle-aged Baby Jessica said that the event had only a small impact on her life. She stated,
“Couldn’t cage me then, why should it cage me now?”
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